On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Liam Martin, author of the new book Running Remote: Master the Lessons from the World’s Most Successful Remote-Work Pioneers. Liam and I discuss the challenges and opportunities of the new world of asynchronous and remote work. And what employees, managers, and leaders can do to be more productive and thrive in the new and changing environment. Let’s get started.
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Interview Transcript with Liam Martin, Author of Running Remote
Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have Liam Martin. He’s the author of Running Remote, which is a new book. He’s also a serial entrepreneur. Runs Time Doctor and Staff.com. And he’s also a co-founder and co-organizer of the world’s largest remote work conference called Running Remote, which is coming up here soon. So welcome to the show, Liam.
Brian Ardinger: As everyone has found out, it’s a topic that’s become a lot more on people’s radar. In 2020, I think if you started before that talking remote work, you’re talking about nomad life and they were the folks that were doing it, but it wasn’t necessarily mainstream.
Now we’re in this world where everybody’s had some taste of remote work. You know, they’ve been working from their basement or someplace along the line. What are people getting, right. And what are people getting wrong when it comes to remote work? Now that everybody’s been plunged into this deep end.
Liam Martin: Oh, that’s a great question. January of 2020, 4.5% of the U S workforce was working remotely. March of 2020, 45 % of the US workforce was working remotely. And we’re projected to effectively, as we moved from pandemic to endemic, be at about 30% of the US workforce working remotely. And if you make more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, that number is 75% of the workforce.
So, we’re talking about a transition that is probably the most influential transition towards work since the industrial revolution. But the industrial revolution took about 80 years, and we did it in March. So, a complete change of the way that people work. And when people made that transition, I was getting crazy calls because I’ve been doing remote for almost 20 years.
I was getting all these calls from governments and from multinational corporations. And I lovingly call these people Pandemic Panicers. The people that were just like, okay, we’re going to go remote at gunpoint. Right. We have no choice other than to go remote. And the biggest thing that people really get right, is number one, just allowing people to make that transition and putting away the fears that they classically had before that occurred.
And that was a really interesting opportunity for the market, because for me, I mean, I think I call myself like a fundamentalist remote worker. I’m really committed towards remote work because I think it actually makes everyone’s lives significantly easier. Not only the employee, but the employer.
But when you saw this transition, people just said, okay, you know, we’re going to try this out. We’re going to see if it happens. I think a lot of people said, this is probably only going to be two months, it ended up being two and a half years. But the reality is that when everyone made that switch, it was putting away those fears. That was probably one of the best things that people could have done.
People did almost everything else wrong, unfortunately. And that’s actually the goal of the book is to be able to, to make that shift. But the core piece that I would probably touch on. The most important thing that people don’t recognize is there is an entire industry of people called Remote First Organizations. I was one of them. We have people in 43 different countries all over the world.
We do not have an office. And these people work all over planet earth, different cultures, different identities, and we all seem to get along together. The reason why we do that is because something that I researched or I came across basically during the book, which we call asynchronous management. Which is basically the capability to be able to run a business without speaking to anyone face-to-face.
So think about it in this context. You’ve got a company you want to be able to build out a massive company like Coinbase, as an example. Coinbase IPO’d at $141 billion. They entered number 89 on the S & P 500. And for the first time in the history of the SEC, they stated that their headquarters was nowhere because they said everything else would be a lie. And the vast majority of the communication is asynchronous. Meaning they don’t do Zoom calls. They don’t meet in person. The company basically just evolves on its own. And there’s a bunch of mechanics that kind of connect to that, which I talk about at length in the book.
Brian Ardinger: What’s the first topic that people ask you about or pick your brain about when it comes to remote working. Like where do people naturally go to that they need help with?
Liam Martin: You’re hitting all my buttons, Brian. All right. So, the first question that people ask me is, should we be using Zoom or Google Meet, or should we be using Asana or should we be using Monday.com. Or Trello or whatever it might be. And my response at this point, Is, if you’re asking those questions, you don’t actually know what your problem is.
So fundamentally, the tools that we’re going to use are not actually the way to be able to manage remote workers. That’s an excellent way to be able to recreate the office. But when everyone’s working from home and working remotely, it’s actually a completely different way of managing people. So, I say as an example, just to kind of give you facts on the ground.
I meet with my direct reports about two hours a week. I literally have synchronous conversations with my company, two hours per week. The other, you know, I probably work about 50 hours a week. The other 48 hours of that workweek, I work asynchronously. And so does everyone else inside of the organization.
The actual systems, the platform, the process documents, those things are the manager. And we really focus on leadership, instead of management inside of these teams.
Brian Ardinger: That’s an excellent point because I think a lot of people, again, like you say, they gravitate towards the tools. And the tools will obviously are getting quite good and much better than they were 8, 10 years ago when you probably started this. And things like even Google Docs were a little bit janky at the time. But when it comes to leadership. When it comes to putting the culture in place, what are some of the pitfalls that most people fall into when it comes to remote culture?
Liam Martin: So, this is the Friday at 4:00 PM. Everyone must report to Zoom, and we’re all going to drink beers and playing Cards Against Humanity, not the fun version, however. The HR approved version, right. That no one really wants to be at. And maybe, you know, a pizza’s delivered to you at the end of the week. Poll your people. Make that survey anonymous. Ask them if they like it. They do not like it. No one likes it.
So, culture can’t be built. Culture is something that happens naturally. And what you can only monitor is the dividends from that culture. You can’t actually measure the inputs. You can only measure the outputs of culture in my opinion. So as an example, we bought everyone Oculus Rift headsets, just recently. Virtual reality headsets.
And we said, okay, you guys have these virtual headset. Would you like to meet in the metaverse? Would you like to play video games together? We don’t care which video games you play. If you want to play the most HR inappropriate video game, the one that you kill zombies with, go ahead. Up to you. And then what we measure is the dividend of that activity.
So how many people actually do it? How much time do they spend doing it? That’s what you need to do when you build culture inside of an asynchronous remote organization. Because this forced version of culture building is again the same mindset that people have inside an office model.
The big premise is that when you think about collaboration as a core component of remote work, it’s actually an incorrect premise, the remote pioneers, and the ones that I studied throughout the book, they actually recognized that instead of everyone paying this last cost of an hour and a half commute to a single place every single day in which you could have a collaboration buffet.
Remote First organizations have recognized, well, every time we meet is a cost that we have to inject, right? So, we can have a more of an a la cart method to be able to make sure that we can collaborate when we need to. The minimum viable dose to be able to move the business forward. And this all, once you understand that core premise, everything else that applies to work and how work should be done changes.
Brian Ardinger: So, as we’re coming, hopefully out of the pandemic a little bit, you know, we’re getting people back into more of a traditional office environment. Where are you seeing the challenges when it comes to that hybrid approach. And this back and forth of, we need to go back to normal, so to speak. Or we’ve got half the people now in office and half the people are remote. What are you seeing from that person?
Liam Martin: I will be again a little bit, I guess, outspoken in this context. Which is, I think that hybrid is actually the worst decision out of the three. So, I’d rather have people go back to the office, than be hybrid. And for many reasons, but the biggest one is something that in remote work, we call distance bias.
If you have an individual that is close to the decision maker or the manager. So, let’s say someone that is in the office versus someone being remote. Inevitably the person that is in the office. If the manager does not actually have the discipline to be able to treat both of those employees equally, the employee that’s closer to the manager will have more of their decisions moved forward than the remote worker.
So effectively the remote worker become second-class workers. And it’s not within the interest of a remote worker, if they want to actually move forward in the organization to be remote. So, they’re going to have to come into the office in order to be able to actually have that work done.
I mean, there’s been actually a couple of studies done on this already. It’s incredibly destructive. It completely destroys company culture and destroys your EMPS. It is something that I think is a ticking time bomb as we move back to, the majority being a hybrid environment, because that’s the way that it’s currently happening, at least in the United States.
Brian Ardinger: I think a lot of folks resist going to the fully remote because of one of the main advantages of being in person is that ability to have those serendipitous collisions of people and that. And so how do you plan for that? How do you build for that? To get the advantages of that bumping into power that you don’t in a remote environment.
Liam Martin: You’re going through my greatest hits of things that we may or may not agree on.
Asynchronous work is the polar opposite of serendipitous collaboration. We try to, as an organization, remove serendipitous collaboration because serendipitous collaboration is a word for feeling busy, but not necessarily getting anything done.
So, there’s a fantastic book by Cal Newport called Deep Work. And it is the ability for every single individual inside of an organization, to be able to have everything that they need at their disposal in order to solve difficult problems. And that actually is the core premise of what actually makes a company move quickly or slowly. It’s their speed of innovation. It’s their ability to be able to solve problems.
And we found through research. Again, this is because we’ve just had such a difficult mind shift where if you look at, open up any other MBA book, it’s like collaboration is the most important thing that you can possibly do that serendipitous interaction effect.
But in reality, actually, the best work is done when everyone has everything that they need to do. Everyone has the tools in front of them to solve a problem. And then they can solve that problem. And the vast majority of that work is done by the individual. So, the more people that you can optimize towards deep work, and the more time that you can minimize towards the meeting and collaborative effects that basically happen inside of organizations, the faster that companies move forward.
I’ll give you one example connected to this. One, someone in the book, his name’s Amir. He runs a company called Doist, which is the company that builds the task management app ToDoist. Millions and millions of people use this application all over planet earth. He has people in his company he has never spoken to them face to face.
He’s never done a Zoom call with them. He’s never done an audio call with them. The most he’s done is a little bit of instant messaging and the vast majority is project management. Like task management. Setting a task back and forth. Commenting on it. And those team members are incredibly effective. And companies like ToDoist as very wealthy, profitable organizations.
They’re done in a way that is completely asynchronous. And I actually think that this idea is going to proliferate throughout the rest of corporate America. As we move from this pandemic to endemic stage.
Brian Ardinger: It’s fascinating stuff. I often think about, like, from the individual’s perspective, we’ve not been trained in this. And you know, so it’s a lot of new learning of what to do in new environments. Are there particular skillsets or toolsets or mindsets that people should be thinking about as they want to embrace more of this remote asynchronous type of working?
Liam Martin: Not many, to be honest with you. There are no books on asynchronous work, which is why I wrote one. The big thing that I can really point people out to. The ability to be able to work is really focused on, as I said, people solving difficult problems. And when you actually look at like, how do I actually solve a difficult problem? A lot of the times managers facilitate work, but they don’t actually do any of that work.
So inside of asynchronous organizations, another thing that we discovered, or I discovered in my research for this book is the managerial layer in async orgs are about 50% thinner than they are in synchronous organizations. So, there are more people, there are more dollars focusing on doing work, then managing that work because fundamentally the platform, the project management system, the process document is the manager. It’s not necessarily the individual.
And that’s a real shift that again. It’s very difficult for people to be able to recognize. I mean, I could point you towards a whole bunch of tools to be able to work that out. But if you’re just simply recreating the office and saying, I have to tell you what my numbers are, Brian. Brian, you tell your manager what Liam’s numbers are. And then that manager tells the boss what Liam’s numbers are. No, all of those numbers should just be available to the CEO of the company and to Liam, actually.
Another big thing is asynchronous organizations have a concept that we’ve kind of coined as radical transparency, where everyone has the same informational advantage as the CEO. Very difficult for a lot of old-school organizations to be able to overcome. But then if everyone has the same informational advantage as the CEO, then everyone can actually make much better-informed decisions throughout the entire organization.
Brian Ardinger: One of the things that is often brought up in our podcast is this idea of talent. And how do you get the best out of the talent? And one of the things that I think is, again, different potentially in this new environment is how do you go about hiring for talent and specifically hiring for folks that may be better at this type of work?
Liam Martin: So, one of the biggest indicators of success in remote work, and more specifically in asynchronous remote work organizations is introversion. I call asynchronous work really the rise of the introverted leader. Because when you go into a room of, let’s say eight, incredibly intelligent people. Who’s generally the person whose ideas are adopted?
It’s usually the six foot two, all American guy, with washboard abs that’s incredibly charismatic. And those are the ideas that we usually adopt. If you look at a bunch of corporate boardrooms and we analyze a thousand of them. I could bet you without even knowing what the ideas are, is the guy over six feet tall. Is he a guy? Is he good looking right? And is he in shape?
If you told me those variables, I could probably tell you whose ideas are getting adopted. And do those people have the best ideas? No, they don’t. So asynchronous work actually provides for the ideas to be the most important variable as it applies to asynchronous work, because the bias of that charismatic individual doesn’t permeate the organization in the same way.
When you are just simply debating an idea as an example, on Asana or on Trello, in the comments. The best ideas, actually permeate organizations. And there’s a lot of data to be able to show that women and minorities rise throughout remote and asynchronous organizations, way faster because of that lack of bias.
Brian Ardinger: So, if people want to pick up the book, what are some of the topics that you’d cover in that? And what can people expect from it?
Liam Martin: So, the biggest things are, what can you actually do to be able to experiment an asynchronous communication? And again, you can do this inside of an office or outside of an office. There are plenty of asynchronous organizations where people attend the office every single day, and then they recognize they don’t necessarily have to be in meetings eight hours a day.
They can actually just choose when they want to have a meeting and recognize that meetings are actually a distraction. They’re not something that move you forward. They’re actually something that slow you down, inside of organizations.
And talk about what actionable steps you can take to actually move your organization over to, as we call it the asynchronous mindset. Which has a bunch of variables connected to the process documentation that you have to put inside of your business. The ability for your project management system to actually take over the vast majority of your management. And then the documentation of all of those metrics. So that metrics are just automatic, and you don’t necessarily need to extract them manually.
There’s no more game of telephone, figuring out what the heck is going on in your business. And what this produces as a result, is a company that is number one, a lot less stressful for the business owner to be able to operate. But it’s also scalable and can grow way faster than any of your competitors in this space.
For More Information on Running Remote
Brian Ardinger: It’s a fantastic topic. What’s the best way to connect with you and more information about the book?
Liam Martin: So best place for you to just go to runningremote.com. You’ll be able to check out the conference that we’re doing in May. And then also the book that comes out right after the conference.
Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, Liam, thanks for coming on Inside Outside Innovation to share a little bit about what everybody’s going to have to be dealing with in the near future. So, I appreciate your time. Looking forward to staying connected. Thanks very much for coming on.
Liam Martin: Thanks for having me.
Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.
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Transcribed by Descript. Inside Outside is a Descript Affiliate and uses Amazon Affiliate links for books.